Thursday, March 22, 2007

Linux MCE

Linux MCE (i.e., Media Center Edition, a la Windows) looks very cool. Today, as I post this, their site is down from being, uh, Dugg. However, Digg is pointing to a semi-entertaining and semi-annoying video demo. Actually I continue to be more impressed with MythTV, etc., every time I see it.

Pournelle Comments on Global Warming

Jerry Pournelle comments on global warming in his 5 March View. Excerpting:

There's a lot more gas about Global Warming, but none of it causes me to change my view: yes, the Earth is warming, as apparently is the rest of the Solar System. The warming trend is hardly alarming: we have had warmer periods in historical times including the Medieval Warm Period. Yes, CO2 levels are rising, and since warm water holds less dissolved gas than cold water, any trend that warms the seas will accelerate that. The levels are high, but we don't really know the effect -- CO2 isn't a very efficient greenhouse gas. Water vapor is.

As the seas rise the surface areas become larger; this increases evaporation, which increases water vapor. Water vapor is a rather efficient greenhouse gas. Higher water vapor content usually means more clouds. Clouds are bright and tend to reflect received sunlight, reducing the insolation reaching the Earth. Models reflecting (no pun intended) this are in a very primitive stage and are not incorporated into the computer models that predict doom (doom now being 17 inches of sea level rise rather than Al Gore's 17 feet).

Enough clouds can produce cooling trends.

Ice ages are far more destructive than periods like the Medieval Warm (many say we should be so lucky as to get something like the Medieval Warm). The polar bears seem to have survived the Medieval Warm (proof: there are polar bears).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


It's no secret that I've engaged enthusiastically in pogonotrophy for 29 years!

Happy Vernal Equinox

Happy Vernal Equinox which was last night at 20:07 EDT = 0:07 UTC!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Publish a Google Spreadsheet Chart

Okay, after reading the previous links, here's a very cool tool that lets you publish a chart (that automatically updates) on a web page from a Google spreadsheet! It's very cool. The app downloads the data, allows customizing the columns used, colors, etc., and generates the code that you can paste into a web page!

Here's a sample I just made!

Google Speaks Emacs!

Amanda reports on this fascinating set of modules in the Google Web API that provides access to Google services from Emacs! Cool!


Google Apps APIs

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jim W. Backus, Inventor of FORTRAN, Dies

At the New York Times, Jim W. Backus, 82, FORTRAN Developer, Dies.

Here are some excerpts.

Fortran, released in 1957, was “the turning point” in computer software, much as the microprocessor was a giant step forward in hardware, according to J.A.N. Lee, a leading computer historian.
In an interview several years ago, Ken Thompson, who developed the Unix operating system at Bell Labs in 1969, observed that “95 percent of the people who programmed in the early years would never have done it without Fortran.”

After the war, Mr. Backus found his footing as a student at Columbia University and pursued an interest in mathematics, receiving his master’s degree in 1950. Shortly before he graduated, Mr. Backus wandered by the I.B.M. headquarters on Madison Avenue in New York, where one of its room-size electronic calculators was on display.

When a tour guide inquired, Mr. Backus mentioned that he was a graduate student in math; he was whisked upstairs and asked a series of questions Mr. Backus described as math “brain teasers.” It was an informal oral exam, with no recorded score.

He was hired on the spot. As what? “As a programmer,” Mr. Backus replied, shrugging. “That was the way it was done in those days.”

In 1953, frustrated by his experience of “hand-to-hand combat with the machine,” Mr. Backus was eager to somehow simplify programming. He wrote a brief note to his superior, asking to be allowed to head a research project with that goal. “I figured there had to be a better way,” he said.

Mr. Backus got approval and began hiring, one by one, until the team reached 10. It was an eclectic bunch that included a crystallographer, a cryptographer, a chess wizard, an employee on loan from United Aircraft, a researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a young woman who joined the project straight out of Vassar College.

Mr. Backus, colleagues said, managed the research team with a light hand. The hours were long but informal. Snowball fights relieved lengthy days of work in winter. I.B.M. had a system of rigid yearly performance reviews, which Mr. Backus deemed ill-suited for his programmers, so he ignored it. “We were the hackers of those days,” Richard Goldberg, a member of the Fortran team, recalled in an interview in 2000.

After Fortran, Mr. Backus developed, with Peter Naur, a Danish computer scientist, a notation for describing the structure of programming languages, much like grammar for natural languages. It became known as Backus-Naur form.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


So what is the UCAC? I wasn't even familiar with this catalog. It's the USNO CCD Astrograph Catalog. From their web site (and I've added some brief, explanatory comments [in italics]):

This is an astrometric, observational program, which started in February 1998 at CTIO [Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory]. All sky observations were completed in May 2004. The final catalog is expected not before mid 2007. The second data release (UCAC2) became public in 2003. Positions accurate to 20 mas [milli-arcseconds] for stars in the 10 to 14 magnitude range are obtained. At the limiting magnitude of R=16 [red magnitude = 16] the catalog positions have a standard error of 70 mas. Proper motions [apparent motion of a star across the sky] are provided using various earlier epoch data. Photometry is poor, with errors on the order 0.1 to 0.3 magnitudes in a single, non-standard color.

Occultation by Pluto!

There will be in occultation of Pluto of UCAC 25823784 on Sunday morning 18 Mar 10:56 UT (6:56 EDT). It will be astronomical twilight for us, so I don't know if it will be possible to see Pluto in the Southeast. In the Southwest US, it should be visible.


Sky and Telescope doesn't even mention it in this weeks pages!! What's that about??

The picture is from IOTA. Go to their site to see the full image.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

UFO Sightings

Hah! This Ask Yahoo question (Why do most UFO sightings happen in the United States?) popped up on my Gmail Clips this morning which I found completely fascinating! Particularly this paragraph:

The National UFO Reporting Center lists thousands of "close encounters" submitted by users. According to its database, the United States has far and away the most reported UFO sightings. In fact, California alone has reported more than China, England, India, and Brazil combined.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Girl Scout Cookies

The thing I like best about Girl Scout cookies is that each serving is individually wrapped!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

How Does DST Work in Linux

I've been working on answering this question since yesterday afternoon. I'm close to an answer but don't have a complete one yet.

Here's a Slashdot posting on the subject.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Optimus Keyboard

What's this I hear about an “Optimus keyboard?” Ohhhh, after looking at their site, now I see. It's something I imagined at one time—a keyboard where the key symbols change! Very cool.

Every key of the Optimus keyboard is a stand-alone display showing exactly what it is controlling at this very moment.

(key image from

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Linux Time Notes

Here's a nice tip sheet on Linux time (note that it's pretty RedHat-centric).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Quote of the Day

From today's AWAD

Lots of times you have to pretend to join a parade in which you're not really interested in order to get where you're going.

Christopher Morley,
writer (1890-1957)

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lunar Eclipse

I looked at the lunar eclipse last night for a few minutes between 19:00 and 20:00 EST. By the time the moon was above the trees it was well past totality and was into the partial phases. It was in the clouds the whole time I looked at it. The view was not very ideal.

I was using my 7x50 binoculars on the camera tripod (an ideal arrangement!).

Here's an AP posting via

Binocular Image Stabilizer --- Brilliant!

Sky and Telescope has an article by Alan M. McRobert on his new binocular image stabilizer made from some simple wood pieces. Brilliant!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Total Lunar Eclipse This Weekend

There will be a total lunar eclipse this Saturday night. Binoculars are best for observing!